Maharashtra Governor B S Koshyari on Thursday asked the Election Commission to hold elections to nine Legislative Council seats in the state “at the earliest”. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray needs to win from one of those seats to become a member of the legislature before a six-month deadline expiring on May 27.
Sources told The Indian Express that the EC is likely to agree to Koshyari’s request and hold polls to the nine seats, which fell vacant on April 24, at the earliest. The poll panel has called a meeting Friday morning to examine the matter.
The Governor’s letter to the EC came hours after Shiv Sena leaders submitted a letter to him from Thackeray, and two days after the CM approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter. Thackeray called up the PM after the Governor sat on a recommendation made a month ago by the state government to nominate him to the Legislative Council.
Sena leaders said the Governor’s move ends the uncertainty over Thackeray’s continuance as CM.
Sources in the EC said that elections can be conducted amidst the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown, provided precautions as advised by the Health Ministry are taken, and MLAs follow social distancing while casting their vote. “The Commission can appoint an officer of the Health Department to assist the state CEO (Chief Electoral Officer),” an EC officer said on the condition of anonymity.
As per a statement by the Raj Bhavan, “In his letter (to the EC), the Governor has stated that the Central Government has announced many relaxation measures regarding the enforcement of lockdown… As such the elections to the council seats can be held with certain guidelines, he has said.”
Sources in the Sena said the party as well as allies NCP and Congress had also submitted separate letters to the EC requesting for polls to the nine seats, and handed over copies of the same to the Governor. Their letters stated that on account of “peculiar extraordinary unforeseen facts and circumstances”, Thackeray had not been able to get himself elected to the Legislative Council.
“. if the aforesaid elections to the 9 seats of the State Legislative Council are not only held but also concluded on or before 27 May, 2020, inter-alia in the absence of his nomination to the state legislative council by the Honorable Governor. it is apprehended that he will not be able to continue as the chief minister. In such an unlikely situation a very stable government will not be able to continue uninterruptedly,” the letters said.
In his phone conversation with Modi on Tuesday evening, Thackeray had expressed unhappiness over the “politics being played” over his nomination to the Upper House of the Legislature.
Sources in the Sena said that the Governor had indicated to them on Tuesday that they should approach the EC for holding elections. “He could have nominated Uddhavji to the Council. Now, the EC will hopefully issue the notification for the polls in the next few days,” a Sena minister said.
As per Article 164 (4) of the Constitution, a minister who is not a member of a Legislature needs to get elected to the Assembly or the Council within six months of being appointed. Uddhav was sworn in on November 28, 2019. His failure to enter the Legislature by May 27 would mean the state Cabinet would have also had to resign.
The government had hoped to get Thackeray nominated through the Governor’s quota, following the deferment of polls to the nine seats by the EC due to the coronavirus outbreak and nationwide lockdown.
The EC is already examining changes made by South Korea in election procedures while holding parliamentary polls this month amidst the coronavirus outbreak. A presentation was made to the EC Tuesday on the South Korea model by a Committee of Officers. The panel has been asked to examine which of the measures adopted by South Korea can be adapted for elections in India.
The EC, sources said, is also likely to examine the Commission’s stand in the past on holding elections in case an unelected CM has to fulfil the Constitutional obligation of becoming a member of the Legislature. The EC officer said the poll panel had “always provided the opportunity” to the person concerned by holding an election.
Most recently, Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang (last year) and Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath (2017) had become members of Legislatures through this route.
It’s not clear if the EC will also consider holding elections to the nine vacant Council seats of Bihar, whose terms expire on May 6. Elections to these seats had been also deferred, along with Maharastra’s, in the wake of COVID-19.
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